The Voynich manuscript is an old manuscript, believed to be from the 15th century, which has so far not been deciphered. No one knows quite where it originates from and no one has been able to determine if the writings are code, pure gibberish, or a language no lingustics experts or historians are familiar with.
But perhaps we are closer to finding out the secret now? A new report is published The American Botanical Council’s journal HerbalGram.
Previously, many researchers assumed that the manuscript must have originated in Europe, where it was found. But botanist Arthur Tucker of Delaware State University in Dover noticed similarities between certain plants in the manuscript and illustrations of plants in 16th century records from Mexico.
Tucker began collecting copies of Mexican botanical books out of curiosity about the history of herbs there. “Quite by accident, I ran across the Voynich and it was a Homer Simpson moment of D’oh! Of course –this matches my other codices and the artwork of 16th century Mexico.”
The most striking example was an illustration of a soap plant (xiuhamolli) in a Mexican book dated 1552. Tucker and Rexford Talbert, a retired information technology researcher at the US Department of Defense and NASA, connected a total of 37 of the 303 plants, six animals and one mineral illustrated in the Voynich manuscript to 16th century species in the region that lies between Texas, California and Nicaragua. They think many of the plants could have come from what is now central Mexico.
On the basis of these similarities, the pair suggests that the manuscript came from the New World, and that it might be written in an extinct form of the Mexican language Nahuatl. Deciphering the names of these plants could therefore help crack the Voynich code.
Of course, due to the controversial nature and debate about the Voynich manuscript (which has been going on for a century) there are skeptics out there. Gordon Rugg of Keele University in the UK and Alain Touwaide from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. both think it’s quite possible this is either coincidence and that the Voynich manuscript is indeed just an eloborate hoax (which seems to be the prevalent theory among academics and historians). Both men say it would have been easy to forge drawings of plants that would resemble something found in nature. “It’s pretty good odds that you’ll find plants in the world that happen to look like the Voynich manuscript just by chance”, Rugg said.
Arthur Tucker does agree it is still a possibility the Voynich manuscript is a hoax and there is still work to be done to determine the truth about it.
View the manuscript itself here: Voynich Manuscript | Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.